Thank you to Coeur Cause® Wines and Milbrandt Vineyards, Local Presenting Sponsors for the 2021 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in the Tri-Cities and Wenatchee, and Platinum Sponsors in Seattle and Redmond. Below, owners Stacey Bellew and Lisa Milbrandt share their personal experiences with dementia and how it inspired their involvement in the cause.
They are hosting Coeur Cause® Sparkling Rosé release parties Sept. 24-26 and Oct. 1-3 at Milbrandt Vineyards tasting rooms in Leavenworth, Prosser and Woodinville. Learn more at the end of the story!
Tell us about yourself and your experience with dementia.
Stacy: My name is Stacy Bellew. I was raised in a small town called Granbury, Texas. My husband and I have spent the last 10+ years between California and Washington. He was born and raised in Wenatchee, which was our home before moving back to Texas last year to help my mom. She was officially diagnosed with dementia about six or so years ago.
I’m the owner of the Coeur Cause® wine brand. We connect community leaders and charities with some of the nation’s best wine pioneers. Together, we produce exclusive wines and events to help raise awareness and funds for various causes. I’ve also been the public relations director for Milbrandt Vineyards for almost eight years. Butch and Lisa Milbrandt are selling this year’s Coeur Cause® Sparkling Riesling and Sparkling Rosé in their tasting rooms.
Lisa, and her candid advice about her experience with her mother’s dementia, helped me face some very scary moments in dealing with my mother’s journey.
Lisa: I’m Lisa Milbrandt, and I was raised in George, WA. Currently, my husband and I live in Mattawa, WA and my husband and family own Milbrandt Family Wines. Our family cared for my mom during her long journey with Alzheimer’s disease — we lost her four years ago.
Stacy came to me and my husband Butch with the idea of this wine, and we were excited to be part of it and to honor people suffering from this disease. We really hope to bring awareness to the cause and help family members find out about the resources available to help them as they help their loved ones through this hard, hard journey.
Tell us a favorite memory you have with your mother.
Stacy: One of the happiest memories with my mom involves a trip to Sonoma, Calif. I was in my early 30s and it was the first vacation where it was just the two of us. During that trip, we decided great food and great wine would be central to our mission. We tracked down the best-reviewed restaurants and delis. We ate everything in sight, becoming our own discerning food and wine critics. I remember my mom saying, “How the heck can I make pot roast or eat chili now?”
We were celebrating how far we’d come in our lives. There were times as a single mom she had to watch every can of food we opened, and now here we were in culinary exuberance. She instilled in me the confidence to leave politics and go for public relations in the wine industry.
Lisa: My mom was my shopping buddy, and a fashionista — always completely put together. One memory that still makes me laugh was years ago when I was headed to a futures training course in Chicago. I was only 23, so my tiny mother at 105 pounds decided she needed to come with me as my great protector. Of course, we found time to go shopping on the Magnificent Mile. I’d always wanted a fur coat, so I took mom into Evan’s Furrier. I walked out with a business card, and my mom walked out with a mink wrap! We got home and my dad pitched a fit and banned us from ever shopping together again. We both thought we would die laughing at that silly comment. The memory still makes me smile today.
What was your mother like before dementia and what sort of signs led to a diagnosis?
Stacy: My mom, Shirley Anderson, has always had an inherent allure. I’ve tried like heck to exude the same grace, but I fall flat every time. People always compared her to a young Liz Taylor, and in the 80s, a week wouldn’t go by without a Joan Collins reference. Women would always do a double-take admiring my mom’s style. She could make small-town costume jewelry look Met Gala ready. She mastered the art of looking dashing on a dime.
She could do anything. She’d attempt a new recipe right before dinner guests were to arrive or she’d redecorate a whole room (paint, wallpaper and all) within a day. Her holiday dessert trifles are legendary. Interior design was her passion, but she ended up having her own myotherapy and massage business. She loved helping people and her clients loved her!
She was always a confident woman, but she started second guessing even the most rudimentary activities. I remember a level of paranoia setting in for her. A vivid example of it happened early dawn during a trip to the airport. I was living in California at the time, and had been visiting my parents in Texas for the holidays. My stepfather was driving me back to the airport and my mother became incredibly worried that I was going to miss my plane, to the point she became frantic during the drive. Even though we had left in plenty of time, she kept asking, “Do you know where to go once you get to the airport? Do you know what to do if you get lost?” Her questions kept spilling out like an avalanche to which no assurances could give her comfort.
Through the course of the next few days, my stepfather revealed a series of other things that had been happening like that. Our family started to realize that her previous diagnosis of sleep deprivation and depression were a misdiagnosis of something deeper.
Lisa: Mom was a tough little cookie. She was a “city girl”, but raised in a small town in Utah. She became somewhat of a pioneer when she and my dad moved to George in the 1950s. They lived in a tiny little camp trailer for years on land they purchased as part of the Bureau of Reclamation Act. She would wash clothes in a wringer washer and hang them out to dry only to have the wind blow them full of dirt! They upgraded to living in a Quonset Hut on their property, and then eventually, built their home together. Mom always did everything with style and grace. Her motto was “If it can be done, it can be overdone.”
Mom was always kind of artistic and just went with the flow. There were times where things would get misplaced and we’d say, “Oh, that’s just Mom.” But then it became too frequent. Eventually, we started finding things in strange places — she’d put her shoes in the refrigerator or different examples like that. We realized later that certain things got put in certain places because it seemed like a closet to her. It wasn’t as simple as just misplacing her keys.
Another vivid example is when my younger sister, a hairstylist at the time, was giving mom a perm. My mom had endured the hours-long process with perm rods in her hair, the smelly perm solution, the whole thing. When it was done, my sister removed the rods, rinsed and washed mom’s hair, dried her hair with a towel and turned her around so she could see herself in the mirror. Mom looked at herself, and said “Sandra, I don’t need a perm, look at how much curl my hair has!”
How did your relationship with your mom change after her diagnosis?
Stacy: My conversations have changed with her due to the memory loss and repetition, but they are still incredibly uplifting. She can no longer cook, but my husband and I get so much joy cooking for her now. I love seeing her face still light up when she tastes something delicious. She’s extremely sensitive to noise now and her anxiety level increases when too much activity is happening, so we have our safe and relaxing go-to spots.
Lisa: I will admit that none of us in our family are very patient people, and I think this has been Mom’s way — and God’s way — of teaching us how to be patient. For me, I would go to my parents’ house on the way to work so I could bathe Mom. Trying to juggle it all, I needed this to take place on my timeframe and so I would try to make things go as fast as possible: wake her up, try to get her in the tub, and so forth. I learned that the more I tried to hurry and push her, the more she would slow down or become rigid. Once I started slowing down with my mother, everything went so much more smoothly than if we tried to rush her along. She would be calmer, she would eat better — everything was better. I learned so much from that.
What would you tell other people in your situation?
Stacy: Give other family members some allowances. My sister and I may approach things differently, but she’s been a rock, and we need to lean on each other. My brother too.
A consistent schedule is so important, and finding a universal language with my mom has been key. When she feels safe, she is relaxed. Despite her condition, she’ll give me some of the most amazing and unexpected pearls of wisdom when she’s calm and sharing a delicious meal with me. That’s our universal language. At times, she’ll have two different earrings on and two different shoes on when I pick her up, but she knows it’s our lunch time and she still looks gorgeous.
Finally, as a family, you need to be able to check yourselves and have hard conversations. You need to be able to say, “Hey, I notice you seem impatient with mom today. She didn’t ask for this either, so try being a little more understanding. She’s picking up on your vibe more than you know.” No matter how hard the conversation, always bring it back to love.
Lisa: I’d like to say to family and friends who are caregivers and those who are doing it as a career — please know how valued you are. You are so important and you help the person you are caring for hang on to their dignity and their independence for as long as they can. You have no idea how much you are loved by that person.
To caregivers who are doing this as a career — thank you. I feel so grateful for those who have chosen to help families and people that are struggling with this disease to make their journey a little easier. We eventually had two wonderful caregivers who became a part of our family. They loved our mother as if she were their own. It was beautiful to watch how kind and caring they were with her, and I know we could not have done it without them.
As caregivers, remember to take care of yourselves and nurture your own relationships. Caregiving can be all-consuming because this person is so in need of you, your help and your love. At times, you can temporarily forget about everyone else who is important to you. There were times that I would put my mom’s care before my husband and over time, it can put a lot of stress on a marriage. I thank him for being so understanding and supporting me in doing that for so many years. I’m also thankful that my other siblings and our two very special caregivers were there until the end.
Finally, don’t do it alone. Early on, our family didn’t get involved with the Alzheimer’s Association, so we didn’t utilize all the tools that we had available. The Alzheimer’s Association has resources that are amazing and can be so helpful for people who are struggling through this.
Join us for live music, gourmet pairings, luxury raffle prizes, and the highly-anticipated Coeur Cause® Sparkling Rosé. Until the end of 2021, 10% from sales of this wine and Coeur Cause Sparkling Reisling will go to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s® in Washington State as a direct donation to help raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.
When: Sept. 24-26 and Oct. 1-3 from 12-6 p.m.
Where: Milbrandt Vineyards Tasting Rooms: Leavenworth, Prosser and Woodinville
Cost: $35 or waived with a purchase of Coeur Cause wine